Section 20: Constitution of the Church
Robert J. Woodford has written a fascinating account of the origin of section 20 (“The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ and the Book of Mormon” in Sperry Symposium Classics, The Doctrine and Covenants, ed. Craig K. Manscill, 10316). This introduction to section 20 contains much of the material in Brother Woodford’s article—some of it quoted and some merely summarized.
In 1959 Brenda Daily and her brother Bill attended Ravenna High School in Ravenna, Ohio. They had recently moved there with their family from the Canal Zone, where their father, William D. Daily, served in the military. While in the Canal Zone, these two young people had learned conversational Spanish. They were anxious to study the language at their new school. Unfortunately, the school was not large enough for a regular Spanish class. However, the principal, Wayne E. Watters, had experience teaching Spanish. He was willing to teach a class before school if Brenda and Bill could also get some other students to attend. They found several willing classmates, and soon they had an enthusiastic class functioning.
During the year, Mr. Watters found out that Bill and Brenda were Latter-day Saints. Once he knew that, he had several discussions with them about the Church. On one occasion he mentioned that his wife’s father had a set of early LDS documents in his possession. He told them that the family had preserved these documents through four generations. His wife’s maiden name is Virginia Ryder, and she is a great-greatgranddaughter of Symonds Ryder. He was an 1831 convert to the Church from Hiram, Ohio (see the commentary for D&C 52:37). The Lord called Symonds Ryder on a mission. Unfortunately, Joseph Smith’s scribe who wrote the letter notifying him of the call misspelled his name. Symonds Ryder complained about the Spirit that called him on a mission. If it could not spell his name correctly, then perhaps it erred in calling him on a mission. And so he refused to go. He left the Church in 1831 and became a vicious enemy of the Church, even playing a leading role in the cruel mobbing of Joseph and Sydney Rigdon in Hiram Ohio in the spring of 1832.
Ironically and almost comically, his name is still not spelled correctly in the Doctrine and Covenants and other church publications. His tombstone and his signature give the spelling as Symonds Ryder, not Symonds Rider or Simonds Ryder.
Before proceeding further in this account, please review D&C 18:1 and its commentary. This commentary refers to a document called “Articles of the Church of Christ” that Oliver Cowdery was assigned by Joseph to write in 1829 in preparation for the organization of the Church. This article of Oliver Cowdery’s was one of the items contained in the set of documents in the possession of the family of Virginia Ryder Watters.
How Symonds Ryder obtained this set of documents is an interesting story. In 1868, just two years before he died, Symonds Ryder told an acquaintance that when Joseph Smith and the other church authorities visited Zion (Independence, Missouri) in the summer of 1831, they “left their papers behind,” and they came into the possession of some of the new converts to the Church. And they eventually came into the possession of Symonds Ryder. While not specifically identifying himself as one of those “new converts,” Symonds described how the “new converts [took] an opportunity to become acquainted with the internal arrangement of their church” (Symonds Ryder to A.
S. Hayden, February 1, 1868, published in A. S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio [Cincinnati: Chase & Hall Publishers, 1876], 221). In addition to Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 document, Symonds Ryder had in his possession manuscript copies of the following revelations: sections 20, 35, 36, 42, 52, and 56. This listing was noted by then LDS Church archivist Earl Olson in his May 27, 1960 statement, in the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter cited as Church Archives), that accompanied the documents to Salt Lake City. It seems that Ryder was particularly concerned about the recent revelation of the law of consecration (D&C 42:30-39) and that his farm in Hiram might be taken from him for church use. It is interesting to note that Ryder ended up with manuscript copies of Cowdery’s 1829 article, the 1830 “Articles and Covenants” (section 20), and the law of the Church (section 42). These documents were passed down in the Ryder family and ended up in the possession of Virginia Ryder Watters’ father who was still alive in 1959, the year Brenda Daily and her brother Bill started attended Ravenna High School in Ravenna, Ohio.
Later in the year 1959, during a serious illness, Wayne and Virginia Watters feared her father would soon die. They thought that he had no more use for the document, and so they gave it to Brenda. They felt it would be of greater value to a member of the Church than it was to them. Brenda took it to her father, and he immediately realized that it was a record of some worth. He conveyed it to the mission president in Ohio, who sent it to church headquarters with the next missionary returning to Utah. The Church historian placed it in the Archives of the Church, where researchers can have access to it today. It is interesting to note, parenthetically, that Virginia Ryder Watters’ father recovered and was upset that they had given the documents away. The Church Archives did supply him with a set of photocopies.
The 1829 article is in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery and is three pages in length. It begins, “A commandment from God unto Oliver how he should build up his Church & the manner thereof.” It ends, “Written in the year of our Lord & Saviour 1829—A true copy of the Articles of the Church of Christ &c.” [“&c” is an archaic abbreviation for “etc.”]. The body of the document is composed of scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants interspersed with inspired commentary by Oliver Cowdery. Through these, Oliver Cowdery established several important doctrinal truths. First, because the world is becoming a more wicked place, there is a great need to repent and be baptized. He then explained the procedures for proper baptism. Second, he established that men are to be ordained to the priesthood, and he demonstrated the proper method of performing these ordinations. Those who are so ordained are to pray for the Church and teach the members the truths of the gospel. Third, he explained the doctrine concerning the sacrament. The members are to meet together often to partake of it. He related from the scriptures the form of the ordinance, including the prayers and should be said. He also included the warning from 3 Nephi about partaking of the sacrament unworthily. Fourth, he taught that the church members should meet together often to tell each other of their progress toward eternal life, and he explained a standard of moral conduct which every member should live. He also explained that those who will not repent must be cast out of the Church. Finally he issued a call for all people to come to Christ and take Christ’s name upon them. If they will walk uprightly before the Lord, then his grace is sufficient for them.
There is a close connection between this 1829 manuscript of Oliver Cowdery and section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The title of section 20 in the surviving manuscripts and early published copies is “The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ.” The title of section 20 as it was published in The Evening and the Morning Star, in the June 1832 issue, is the same, and it is similar to the title of Oliver Cowdery’s early manuscript, “The Articles of the Church of Christ.” Section 20 also contains some of the Book of Mormon scriptures quoted by Oliver Cowdery in his manuscript. Oliver Cowdery’s manuscript, then, is an early forerunner to the more comprehensive section
20. The following is an attempt to reconstruct the events leading to the composition of both Oliver’s 1829 article and our present section 20.
Oliver Cowdery had wanted to know what material to put into the “Articles of the Church” and approached the Prophet for help. Joseph Smith prayed about the matter and received the revelation known as section 20. In verse 1 of section 18 we learned that the Lord gave this revelation (section 20) because of “the thing” that Oliver Cowdery desired to know. Oliver Cowdery wanted to know what to write in his 1829 article. The Lord told Oliver Cowdery he had manifested to him many times that the things he had written were true (see D&C 18:2). Oliver Cowdery was the principal scribe for the Book of Mormon as the Prophet dictated it. The Lord told Oliver Cowdery to rely on the things he had written (the text of the Book of Mormon) that he already knew were true (see D&C 18:3). In summary, he was told to get the information he needed for the 1829 “Articles” of the Church from the Book of Mormon. The Lord said he placed “all things . . . concerning the foundation of [his] church” in the Book of Mormon (D&C 18:4). The Lord had already inspired prophets to put in the Book of Mormon the basic principles Oliver Cowdery needed for the earliest procedural statement or handbook of the Church of Christ. He told Oliver further to “build up my church, upon the foundation of my gospel” (D&C 18:5). If he did, the gates of hell could not prevail against him. Oliver Cowdery included the phrase “build up my church” in the introduction of his 1829 article. Oliver Cowdery then composed his three-part version of the articles of the Church from Book of Mormon scriptures. This is the same document that Symonds Ryder acquired.
Oliver Cowdery must have submitted his manuscript to Joseph Smith, and doubtless Joseph’s inspired thinking in producing section 20 was influenced by Oliver’s manuscript. Joseph spoke as if section 20 had been given in advance of the organization of the Church when he wrote: “We obtained of him [Jesus Christ] the following, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which . . . we should proceed to organize his Church once more here upon the earth” (HC, 1:64-70). However, some have speculated that section 20 was probably not finalized in its present form until after April 6, 1830. They offer as evidence the fact that verse 1 refers to the organization of the Church in the past tense: “it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country . . ..” Also, in the Book of Commandments, this section was dated June 1830. Since it was presented to the conference held on June 9, 1830, for approval, it must have been written sometime between April 1 and June 9 (Woodford, The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, 286).
We may thus summarize the origins of section 20 by saying that it is a composite that evolved over a period of time. The main portions were written in April 1830, and Joseph drew upon the materials written by Oliver Cowdery in 1829. Some finalizing and editing were done in preparation for the June 1830 conference. Verses 65 through 67 were later added and included in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. One interesting point regarding the form of this section is that it differs from the previous nineteen sections. In section 20 the Lord is not speaking as the first person. Verse 16 shows that the speaker is “we, the elders of the Church.” The first thirty-six verses take the form of a testimony of the two elders, Joseph and Oliver. From verse 37 to the end, straightforward directions are given, but never in the voice of the Lord.
In all editions of the Doctrine and Covenants published between 1835 and 1869, section 20 was printed just after the preface as some indication of its importance (Ibid., 299).
The purpose of section 20 seems to have been to identify and introduce the new organization—the restored Church—to the Christian world as a respectable Christian church holding to established gospel principles. “[Section 20] presented the Church as no cult or sect with eccentric beliefs or bizarre forms of worship, but as a church among churches, stable, disciplined, and orthodox” (Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 158).
Section 20 resembles the statements or confessions of faith of Christian denominations, both in its language and in the topics covered: the fall, the nature of man, the atonement, resurrection, redemption, justification, and sanctification. Verses 65 through 67 were obviously added some time later as Joseph’s knowledge regarding priesthood organization grew. After section 20 was accepted by the June 9 conference, the missionaries often carried personal copies for teaching purposes. While section 20 made public announcement of the new Church as a conventional Christian church, to the members themselves it was obviously much more than simply another church among churches.
Section 20, which is made up largely of revelatory material received before the Church was organized and was known to the early Church as the “Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ.” It was the first summary statement of the history, doctrines, policies, and procedures of the Church. At the first conference of the Church held in Fayette, New York, on June 9, 1830, section 20 was read to the members and unanimously sustained as the Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, thus making it the first revelation of this dispensation to be formally presented to and sustained by the members. The importance attached to section 20 by early members of the Church is obvious from the many historical accounts of its use. Several other revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants refer to section 20, including 28:12, 14; 33:14; 42:13; 51:4; 68:24; and 107:12, 63. The Lord in each of these passages, requested the saints to remember the articles and covenants and to obey the principles revealed there. The importance of section 20 has not diminished over the years. According to statistics kept personally by Robert J. Woodford, the General Authorities since 1974 cite only sections 84, 88, and 121 from the Doctrine and Covenants more often that they cite section 20.
Certainly, this section served as the first priesthood manual or handbook for the Church, and it was read verbatim to the members at many early Church conferences. Section 20, along with sections 21-22, are foundational documents for the organization of the restored Church.
Section 20 contains some passages of scripture quoted directly from the Book of Mormon. Several other passages are paraphrased or summarized. The sacrament prayers are probably the most widely known of these scriptures. Moroni recorded them in Moroni chapters 4 and 5, and Joseph Smith published them as verses 77 and 79 of section 20. Verse 73 of section 20 contains the baptismal prayer from 3 Nephi 11:25. Joseph included the instruction in Moroni 6:5-6 to partake of the sacrament frequently as verse 75 in section 20. Moroni taught, in Moroni 3:4, how men are to be ordained to the priesthood. Joseph included these same instructions in verse 60. He also placed in verse 37 the prerequisites for baptism that are given in Moroni 6:2-4. The elders are to conduct church meetings as the Holy Ghost directs them. This teaching comes from Moroni 6:7, and Joseph included this material in verses 80-83. In D&C 20:10, the Lord uses the testimony of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses to declare to mankind that the Book of Mormon is true. Verse 11 of section 20 adds two additional truths concerning the Book of Mormon. First, the Book of Mormon proves to the people of the world that the Bible is true (Moroni 7:8-9). Second, we learn in D&C 20:11 that the Book of Mormon establishes the actuality of prophets in our own day. It does this by the fact that the irrefutable truth of the Book of Mormon establishes Joseph Smith as a latter-day prophet. Section 20 integrates the teachings of the Book of Mormon into the Church of this dispensation. It emphasizes the eternal covenants and commitments required by the Lord of the Nephites and also of us. It sets the same standard of conduct for us that the Savior set during his ministry to the Book of Mormon people.
D&C 20 Constitution of the Church—The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ.
D&C 20:22 He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them.
D&C 20:37 Requirements for membership in Church — All those who humble themselves and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits.
D&C 20:73 Baptismal prayer.
D&C 20:77, 79 Sacramental prayers.
1 The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April–
verse 1 “the Church of Christ” The name of the Church is given: “the Church of Christ.” This name was used from 1830 to 1834. In 1834, the name “Church of the Latter-day Saints” was given (HC, 2:63). Finally, in 1838 the Church was given its present name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4).
“being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh” Much has been made over this wording. Specifically it has been repeatedly suggested that the Savior was born on April 6 in the year 1 BC. The question remains as to whether or not such a specific implication was intended by the Lord or by the Prophet Joseph.
On April 6, 1833, the third anniversary of the Church’s organization, Joseph Smith himself wrote, “The day was spent in a very agreeable manner, in giving and receiving knowledge which appertained to this last kingdom—it being just 1800 years since the Savior laid down his life that men might have everlasting life, and only three years since the Church had come out of the wilderness, preparatory for the last dispensation” (HC, 1:337). Again, we wonder if Joseph Smith felt that he was revealing divine knowledge as to the exact birth year of the Savior.
At least two presidents of the Church, Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball, have affirmed that April 6 is the actual birthday of the Savior as well as the anniversary of the organization of the Church (see Lee, in the Ensign, July 1973, 2; Kimball, in the Ensign, May 1980, 54; see also Roberts, Outlines of Ecclesiastical History, 16-17).
On the other hand, some writers, including some modern apostles and prophets, have urged caution in interpreting this verse as an exact date. Among these are Hyrum
M. Smith, J. Reuben Clark Jr., and Bruce R. McConkie (see Smith, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, 138; Clark, Our Lord of the Gospels, vi-vii; McConkie, Mortal Messiah, 1:349-50). Elder McConkie’s summary is helpful: “We do not believe it is possible with the present state of our knowledge—including that which is known both in and out of the Church—to state with finality when the natal day of the Lord Jesus actually occurred” (Mortal Messiah, 1:349-50, n. 2).
It seems highly likely that the Savior’s birth was in 4 or 5 BC (See the commentary for 3 Nephi 1:1 in Learning to Love the Book of Mormon).
“it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country” To what law does this statement refer? By 1830, the United States Constitution had been ratified and its first amendment was in force, protecting the freedom of religion. The specific laws under which the Church was incorporated, however, seem to have been the laws of New York State. In 1784 the state of New York enacted a procedure for incorporating religious societies. This statute was updated in 1813 and was in effect on April 6, 1830.
Although the law did not require a group of worshipers to incorporate themselves in order to exist as a church, certain legal privileges, such as the right to acquire and hold property and perform marriages would flow from the act of incorporation. In summary, the statute required a church or congregation to elect from three to nine trustees to take charge of church property and transact business affairs. Two elders of the congregation were to be selected to preside over the election. Fifteen days’ notice, given for two successive Sabbaths, was required. A certificate establishing a name for the church and evidencing completion of the organizational events was to be recorded in the county or counties where the church was located (see Laws of the State of New York, 214). Interestingly, all of these requirements were met by the Church, but the certificate for the incorporation of the Church in April 6, 1830, has never been located (John K. Carmack, “Fayette: The Place the Church was Organized” in Sperry Symposium Classics, The Doctrine and Covenants, 48-55). Six people became “trustees” on that day in Fayette, and Joseph and Oliver were the two presiding elders at the incorporation proceeding.
2 Which commandments were given to Joseph Smith, Jun., who was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church;
verse 2 “Joseph Smith, Jun., who was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ” In May of 1829 Joseph and Oliver had received both the Melchizedek Priesthood and the apostolic keys under the hands of Peter, James, and John (see D&C 27:12).
“Joseph Smith, Jun., who was called . . . to be the first elder of this church” In order to avoid organizational confusion, it was important that Joseph be designated the “first elder” or head of the Church. The designation “first elder” was a Church administrative designation and does not refer to a special office in the priesthood. Oliver Cowdery was designated the “second elder.” Joseph and Oliver were already apostles and thereby also elders (see verse 38). In exercising their authority as apostles and elders, Joseph was to have administrative precedence over Oliver. Their designation as first and second elders had nothing to do with the sequence of their ordination, but rather with their authority. In the infancy of the Church there was no First Presidency, only a first and second elder who held the keys of the apostleship. Joseph would later write: “I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves” (HC, 1:338).
3 And to Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church, and ordained under his hand;
4 And this according to the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory, both now and forever. Amen.
5 After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;
verse 5 What time period is being referred to here when Joseph “was entangled again in the vanities of the world”? At the time of the first vision, Joseph received a remission of his sins. Between the time of the first vision and the time of Moroni’s first visit on September 21, 1823, by Joseph’s own description his conduct did not live to the Lord’s expectations. Joseph wrote:
During the space of time which intervened between the time I had the vision and the year eighteen hundred and twenty-three—having been forbidden to join any of the religious sects of the day, and being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends, and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me—I was left to all kinds of temptations; and mingling with all kinds of society. I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament (HC, 1:9-10).
6 But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness;
verse 6 The “holy angel” was, of course, Moroni.
7 And gave unto him commandments which inspired him;
verse 7 For a detailed account of the commandments given to Joseph by Moroni, see JS-H 1:33-42.
verses 8-16 The importance of the Book of Mormon is emphasized.
8 And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon;
verse 8 The “means which were before prepared” were the Urim and Thummim.
9 Which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also;
verse 9 “Which contains . . . the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ” For a discussion of the concept of the fulness of the gospel, see the commentary for D&C 1:23. The Book of Mormon contains all of the gospel principles sufficient to lead to the exaltation of any individual who adheres to those principles.
“to the Gentiles” In this dispensation, which is the “times of the Gentiles” (from the time of the restoration to the Lord’s second coming), the Book of Mormon and the gospel are to go to the Gentiles first and then to the Jews. This order of things fulfills the ancient declaration that “the last [the Gentiles] shall be first, and the first [the Jews] shall be last” (1 Nephi 13:42; Luke 13:30).
10 Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—
verse 10 “and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels” The “others” here are the three witnesses and the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon.
11 Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old;
verse 11 “Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true” It is the Lord’s intent that the Book of Mormon be used to prove that the Bible is true. Indeed, the Book of Mormon provides the keys by which the Bible should be interpreted. For example, some biblical scholars deny that Jesus himself could have composed or taught the Sermon on the Mount (see Funk, Five Gospels). The Book of Mormon shows that Jesus did teach the Sermon on the Mount—that it was his sermon (3 Nephi 12-14). Also, many Bible scholars theorize that much of the book of Isaiah was not written by Isaiah but by other writers after the Babylonian conquest in 586 BC. The Book of Mormon shows this theory to be false. Lehi left the Old World with the brass plates before the fall of Jerusalem. Because the brass plates at the time already contained a nearly complete copy of Isaiah—and if the Book of Mormon is true—then Isaiah cannot have been written after 587 BC.
The way in which the Book of Mormon “proves” the Bible true is not scientifically but by the logic of the Spirit. The Book of Mormon testifies of the Bible. If a person learns by the Spirit’s witness that the Book of Mormon is true, then he or she also knows that the Bible is true (Mormon 7:8-9).
Also, the very existence of the Book of Mormon testifies to the world that the heavens are still open and that the Lord of heaven who spoke to the prophets and apostles anciently continues to do so today. The pattern of the Lord’s giving the Old Testament and then the New Testament is consistent with the pattern of the Lord’s giving the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The Lord has not changed his mode of operation. He is still the same—yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8—and see also the following verse).
12 Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. Amen. 13 Therefore, having so great witnesses, by them shall the world be judged, even as many as shall hereafter come to a knowledge of this work.
verse 13 The “so great witnesses” are Joseph Smith and the three and eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon.
14 And those who receive it in faith, and work righteousness, shall receive a crown of eternal life;
verse 14 Here the Lord re-emphasizes the importance of both faith and works (2 Nephi 25:23).
15 But those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it, it shall turn to their own condemnation— 16 For the Lord God has spoken it; and we, the elders of the church, have heard and bear witness to the words of the glorious Majesty on high, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
verse 16 The “elders of the church” are Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
verses 17-36 The basic doctrines or creed of the Church is stated. To understand these verses one must have a feeling for the Protestant doctrines of grace, justification, and sanctification, which were prevalent in 1830. This declaration of the Church’s creed was intended at least in part for a nonmember audience, and it is couched in somewhat Protestant phraseology. The terms grace, justification, and sanctification are, of course, perfectly valid and important concepts in our Church doctrine today.
The term grace refers the Lord’s love for man, especially that aspect of the Lord’s love that inclines him to bestow upon man blessings that the man does not completely deserve. By his grace, he extends to us the opportunity for eternal life in his presence in spite of our being unworthy to enter his presence. Grace particularly refers to the blessings which have to do with salvation from sin. Christ is the complete expression of grace. He is the chosen means whereby God shows his favor and blessings to sinful man. To receive this grace, according to the Protestant concept, one must simply declare a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. Then one is “in a state of grace.” To be in a state of grace is to be sealed up to ones salvation and to be fully aware that ultimately one’s relationship with God is determined not by merit or works or obedience to the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ’s merciful love.
In order to understand the concept of justification, one must first come to understand the law of justice. Stated succinctly, this law holds that for every violation of God’s law a penalty is assessed. This penalty renders the individual “guilty of sin.” This law is very exact. If even one sin is committed, and the penalty is not removed, the individual guilty of the sin cannot qualify for entry back into God’s presence. Hence the scriptural statement to the effect that “no unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God” (1 Nephi 10:21; 15:34; Alma 11:37; 40:26; 3 Nephi 27:19; Moses 6:57). A man is said to be “justified” or “reconciled to God” when all a man’s penalties are removed. We may say, then, that his sins are forgiven or removed. He is then brought into perfect harmony with God to the point where he can be exalted. The following statement is absolute and must be understood to be absolute: No man can be exalted in the celestial kingdom without being justified. If a man is justified he is regarded as being righteous by God. If God were to judge man strictly based on adherence to the law, then no man would be regarded as righteous—every man would fall short. Each and every man is guilty of sin (Romans 3:23). To become justified, then, every man needs help. This help comes, of course, from our Savior. He will remove the penalty of sin— forgive the sinner—if the sinner will qualify himself by accepting Christ and striving diligently to live his commandments.
Sanctification implies a lofty state of spiritual refinement. The process of sanctification is an incremental process of refinement, extending over our mortal lives, during which our “natural man” inclinations, our carnal proclivities, are preferentially purged from our souls; and they are replaced by gifts of the Spirit—increments of the attributes of God and Christ. We are in this way, made “holy.” To be sanctified means to be made holy. God is holy, and as we are sanctified over time, we become more like him. It is the result of continuous self introspection, and repeated repenting of our sins and imperfections. The Spirit of God has a vital role in this process, as it is he who purges us of our sins and imperfections (“as if by fire”) as we evidence satisfactory effort to change ourselves. And he also grants those gifts of the Spirit—those increments of spiritual growth—when he judges man to be worthy. Sanctification is required of all those who would enter into the celestial kingdom of God. No one will return to his presence who has not progressed on the road to becoming like him through the process of sanctification. For a more complete discussion of justification and sanctification, see the chapter by that name in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine (volume 1, chapter 17).
17 By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them;
verse 17 “By these things” refers to the Book of Mormon and the witnesses of the Book of Mormon.
“infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting” We in the Church find no conflict between the ideas that God has a tangible, physical body, and that he is an infinite God.
“the same unchangeable God” God is unchanging. The God of the orthodox Christians, however, no longer reveals his will to apostles or prophets, and seems rather to have changed from the biblical pattern.
18 And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them;
verse 18 Note that Eve as much as Adam is created in the image of God. Hence, the concept of “God” has an even richer significance in connection with the Spirit birth of mankind than it does in other contexts. The First Presidency, in 1925, declared, “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally sons and daughters of Deity” (Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 5:244). The male God and the female God are sealed together eternally and act as one in the process of eternal procreation. This may be one of several reasons for the plural noun form Elohim in the Hebrew word for the Father.
19 And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.
verse 19 The fulness of the gospel was given to Adam and Eve, and they taught it to their children (see Moses 5).
20 But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man.
verse 20 There are perhaps two problems with this verse:
- First, it implies that the “sensual and devilish” tendency within each of us—our “natural self”—is brought about by our transgressing the laws of God. Man’s dual nature (“natural” and “spiritual”) is fundamental and intrinsic to each member of the family of man. These two qualities have always existed in each individual. They did not have a beginning. They are not created. We have always had this dual nature even from the time we existed as unembodied intelligences and later as spirits in the premortal world. We have been exposed to the law and have exercised our agency to obey or disobey even before we were born spiritually in the pre-existent phase. Certainly we see evidence of “natural man” behavior in the premortal world. Sin did not create the natural tendencies of man. Rather, those natural tendencies result in sin.
The natural self certainly was not created by Satan though he delights in and exploits man’s “natural-man” inclinations and encourages the exercise of them to the exclusion of man’s spiritual side.
Pride is the most fundamental sin of the natural man. Pride is the excessive giving in to the natural pulls of man. Was not Lucifer guilty of obvious pride as he put himself forward to be the savior of the worlds? The Father reported this incident to Moses: “Satan . . . came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.
For a more complete discussion of the natural and spiritual tendencies in each individual, see the “Natural Self” and “Spiritual Self” in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 5.
- Secondly, the verse implies that we mortals became fallen man as a result of our “transgression of these holy laws.” This is only partly true. We came to be in a “fallen state”—outside the presence of God in a telestial world—because of the transgression of Adam and Eve through no fault of our own. At the moment of our birth into mortality, we exist in a fallen state. It is also true that once he is in the world, each man transgresses the law and “falls” on his own.
A general misconception has grown up in the Church to the effect that our coming into this earth in a “fallen state” has resulted in the “natural man” tendency within each of us. The word man in the expression natural man, is often used with the connotation of mortal man or fallen man. It seems clear that this mortal experience here on earth is particularly designed to test our abilities to exist in the world but not become of the world. Mortality is particularly designed to test our natural self in ways we were not tested in the premortal world. Every man and woman is forced to interact intimately with things of the world as they obtain an education, prepare themselves to be fathers, mothers, and breadwinners, and arm themselves to succeed in the world. Yet they must maintain their spiritual connections as their primary loyalty. The world is an enticing and most dangerous place to the man seeking one day to return to his eternal celestial home. Here in mortality we are especially inclined toward being “carnal, sensual, and devilish,” because of the pulls of our mortal body.
It would seem that the label “natural man” ought to be most correctly used to describe the natural self of an individual who is here on earth navigating this mortal eperience. “Natural self” is an appropriate term for that same inclination of each individual in all settings (premortal, mortal, and post mortal).
21 Wherefore, the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him.
22 He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them.
verse 22 There is no suffering that has been experienced or which ever will be experienced by mortal man that the Savior does not understand perfectly because he somehow personally experienced all suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross. Likewise, there is nothing of temptation which he does not understand perfectly because he also experienced all temptations.
23 He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day;
24 And ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father;
25 That as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved—
verse 25 To be “saved,” of course, means to receive a celestial salvation.
26 Not only those who believed after he came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came, who believed in the words of the holy prophets, who spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost, who truly testified of him in all things, should have eternal life,
verse 26 “meridian of time” One of the definitions for the word meridian is “midday” or “noon.” Thus we speak of ante-meridian (a.m.) or post-meridian (p.m.). The meridian of time therefore might suggest the idea of the middle of the earth’s existence. We know that the period of the Savior’s mortal ministry, the meridian of time, was not the chronological middle of the earth’s temporal existence, but rather the spiritual middle. Is the point that everything before looks ahead to, and that everything after looks back at—the high point of the earth’s temporal existence. The atonement of Christ is the reference point in time, like noon, that determines the before and after of all things.
“all those from the beginning . . . should have eternal life” Here is a reminder that one of the ways in which the atonement of Jesus Christ is infinite is that it applies to and was active in the lives of those that accepted Christ even before the Savior’s experience in Gethsemane and on the cross.
27 As well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and of the Son;
28 Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.
verse 28 President Joseph Fielding Smith has explained this verse by teaching us that the word “God” in this verse actually means Godhead.
It is true there are three divine and separate beings in the Godhead. But they are obligatorily united in ways that we are not given to fully understand. If the Son and the Holy Ghost were not obedient to the Father, or if they deviated from being one with him in mind, thought, and purpose, they would cease to be divine (see Alma 42:13, 22, 25).
29 And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.
verse 29 “worship the Father in his name” We worship God by emulating him and following his course. Just as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so also it is the truest form of worship. True worship of the Father is to imitate the Son of God and conform to his example. In this way we worship the Father in the name (and example) of the Son.
30 And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true;
verse 30 See the commentary for verses 17-36 above regarding the principles of justification and grace.
“justification” Justification is a judicial or legal term, and it means being acquitted or being declared innocent of all charges. In spite of the fact that each of us has sinned, each of us can also be declared innocent (we can be forgiven of our sins) through the Savior’s appealing for us before the demands of justice. He will do this if we strive diligently to obey him. And he is qualified to do this because of his atoning sacrifice.
The scriptures describe us variously as being justified by Christ (Acts 13:39; Mosiah 14:11), by faith (Acts 26:18; Romans 3:28, 30), by grace (Romans 3:24), by works (James 2:27-30), by Christ’s blood (Romans 5:9), and by the Spirit (Moses 6:60). A useful exercise for the reader is to consider each of the items on this list and briefly explain the role of each in your becoming justified.
“justification . . . is just and true” Justification is both a just and a true principle. It is just because Christ is the perfect judge and, by virtue of his atoning death, he has satisfied the demands of justice. It is true because it exists—it truly is.
31 And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength.
verse 31 See also the commentary for verses 17-36 above regarding the principle of sanctification.
“sanctification” Just as with justification, the scriptures describe us variously as being sanctified by Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2; Hebrews 2:11), by the grace of God (Moroni 10:33), by the truth (John 17:17, 19), by the word of God (1 Timothy 4:5), by God the Father (Jude 1:1), by law (D&C 88:21, 34), by water (Ephesians 5:26), by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; Alma 5:4; 13:12; 3 Nephi 27:20), and by blood (Hebrews 9:14; Moses 6:60). Again, don’t fail to review the more complete discussion of justification and sanctification in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification.
32 But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God;
verse 32 In the Protestant world in the early nineteenth century, some creeds held to the idea of Irresistible grace which is attributed to John Calvin. This was the idea that God designated or predestined some individuals for salvation (and also some for damnation), and that once so designated, those individuals could never fall from that secure state—they possessed irresistible grace. In this verse the principle of irresistible grace is struck down in favor of the idea of agency and personal responsibility. We “fall from grace” when we, through our disobedience, render ourselves unworthy and unqualified for the Savior to plead our case before the demands of justice. For a more complete discussion of this issue, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 4, chapter 11, Grace and Works.
33 Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation;
34 Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also.
verse 34 “those who are sanctified” What is required before an individual is sanctified? What are the criteria? It is not possible to precisely define a concrete endpoint. An individual is sanctified (and justified—the two processes occurring together) when he is satisfactorily (as judged by the Spirit—the Holy Spirit of Promise) striving to overcome his natural self and obeying the Lord’s commands. The processes of justification and sanctification are ongoing. One does not suddenly arrive at that point where one is irreversibly justified and sanctified. At some times in our lives we are progressing well—our offering of obedience is satisfactory to the Lord—and we might be said to be justified and sanctified. We are regularly being cleansed by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost (see the introductory commentary for 2 Nephi 31). At other times we may find ourselves drifting downward spiritually, and those moments we may struggle to be found worthy—and therefore unworthy to become justified. We may even lose some of the spiritual gifts that we had already acquired, and therefore we may become less sanctified than we were. Each of us has moved and will continue to move through these up and down cycles. When our mortal trial is over, the Lord will judge if our spiritual growth, given our premortal gifts and our earthly circumstances, has been adequate. If the Savior chooses to appeal for our exaltation, we will finally be declared justified and sufficiently sanctified, and we will be allowed access to our celestial home.
35 And we know that these things are true and according to the revelations of John, neither adding to, nor diminishing from the prophecy of his book, the holy scriptures, or the revelations of God which shall come hereafter by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, the voice of God, or the ministering of angels.
verse 35 This verse deals with the charge that Joseph’s revelations added to the Bible, contrary to the warning in the Book of Revelation (22:18) not to add to the words of the Bible. The idea is implied that Joseph’s revelations neither add nor detract from biblical writings but are contained within the Bible.
“his book, the holy scriptures” These phrases refer to the book of Revelation and to the Bible.
36 And the Lord God has spoken it; and honor, power and glory be rendered to his holy name, both now and ever. Amen. 37 And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.
verse 37 “by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism” Requirements for membership in the Church are outlined.
“come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits” We must be motivated to repent by a more pure motive than sorrow for one’s own sins which might be wrought through being caught sinning or because of peer pressure. It would seem that to truly acquire a “broken heart” and “contrite spirit” one must be blessed by the Spirit of God with a deep, godly sorrow for one’s sins, a profound realization of our dependence upon the Savior, a desire for forgiveness, a loss of any desire to deliberately sin, a propensity to be wounded even by the sins of others, and an enthusiastic willingness to abide by all the covenants and obligations which the gospel entails. A “broken heart and contrite spirit” is clearly a gift of the Spirit. Our hearts are broken perhaps for two reasons. One is that we feel remorse for our sinful ways. The other reason is that, as we contemplate the atoning sacrifice of the Savior, our hearts are broken because of how much he suffered on our behalf. See also the commentary for D&C 97:8.
“are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ” To take upon us his name is to (1) join the Church bearing his name; (2) to become one of his children, fully committed to subject our will to his; (3) to willing be owned by him—to have his name “written” upon us; (4) to actively represent him and his gospel before those who do not have it; and (5) to assume his identity and therefore gradually becoming what he is.
“that they have received of the Spirit of Christ” The phrase “Spirit of Christ” has various meanings including: (1) It is a name or title of the Holy Ghost. (2) It may refer to that spiritual entitlement given to each individual at their birth (Moroni 7:16-17; D&C 93:2). (3) It may refer to the light or the influence of Christ. This latter definition seems to apply here.
verses 38-59 Duties of church officers are outlined—apostles, elders, priests, teachers, and deacons.
Seventies and high priests are not mentioned in verse 38 because there were none in the Church at the time. High priests were added in June 1831 and seventies in February 1835. The organization revealed to the Church at this time was sufficient and expedient for the government of the Church at the time of its organization.
38 The duty of the elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the church of Christ—An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize;
verse 38 “An apostle is an elder” The difference between an elder and an apostle is not a difference in the level of priesthood which they hold. When a man is ordained to the higher or Melchizedek priesthood, he holds all of the priesthood which he will ever receive on this earth. Within that priesthood there are six offices to which a Melchizedek Priesthood holder may be called. Can you name them? They are elder, seventy, high priest, apostle, patriarch, and president of the high priesthood (prophet president of the Church). In the early Church, there was, for a time, a seventh office in the Melchizedek Priesthood which was Assistant President of the Church. A man is ordained to these offices. The calling of an apostle is to hold, in concert with his quorum, the keys of the kingdom and he has an additional, special calling to be a personal and special witness for Jesus Christ.
There are other positions in the priesthood that may be classified as callings within the priesthood. These might include an assignment to be president or group leader of a priesthood quorum, a counselor in a quorum presidency or group leadership, and a member of a special quorum such as the Quorum of Twelve Apostles or the Quorum of the First Presidency. To these assignments a man is set apart and not ordained. Thus, a new apostle is ordained an apostle and then set apart as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
It is appropriate to address an apostle or seventy or anyone holding the Melchizedek priesthood as “Elder.” The use of this designation makes it unnecessary to use the more sacred terms such as “Apostle,” “Patriarch,” “High Priest,” etc. The term “President” in addressing a member of the First Presidency is another appropriate term (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:95).
verses 39-44 The duties of the apostle are outlined.
39 And to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons;
40 And to administer bread and wine—the emblems of the flesh and blood of Christ—
41 And to confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures;
verse 41 “baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost” For a discussion of the ordinance of baptism with its three separate parts, see the introductory commentary for 2 Nephi 31 (In Learning to Love the Book of Mormon) or in Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth in volume 1, chapter 18 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
42 And to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church;
43 And to confirm the church by the laying on of the hands, and the giving of the Holy Ghost;
44 And to take the lead of all meetings.
verse 44 To “take the lead of all meetings” means to preside.
45 The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God.
verses 46-59 The duties of those holding the Aaronic Priesthood are outlined. There are four offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. Can you name them? They are deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. While the calling of bishop is a calling within the lesser priesthood, he is also the presiding high priest of a ward.
46 The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament,
47 And visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties.
48 And he may also ordain other priests, teachers, and deacons.
49 And he is to take the lead of meetings when there is no elder present;
50 But when there is an elder present, he is only to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize,
51 And visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties.
52 In all these duties the priest is to assist the elder if occasion requires.
53 The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;
54 And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;
55 And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.
56 And he is to take the lead of meetings in the absence of the elder or priest–
57 And is to be assisted always, in all his duties in the church, by the deacons, if occasion requires.
58 But neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands;
59 They are, however, to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.
60 Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him.
verse 60 There are no self-appointments in the priesthood (Hebrews 5:4-6). A man must be called and ordained by one who is properly authorized.
“he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost” The Holy Ghost is the Communicator whose stewardship is all information and gifts which pass between heaven and earth. The worthy earthly administrators of the Lord’s kingdom minister by virtue of special gifts which belong to the priesthood. The Holy Ghost has stewardship over these special gifts. See Priesthood in volume 2, chapter 12 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
verses 61-62, 81 Elders of the Church are commanded to meet together periodically in conferences. In the early days of the Church, the conferences were mainly general priesthood conferences, and the sole participants in these quarterly conferences of the Church were the elders—male members of the Church. As the Church has expanded there has arisen a need for other conferences involving all members of the Church, male and female. These include stake, ward, general, regional, and area conferences. President Harold B. Lee taught that the purpose of conferences in the Church is to convey to the saints those things that the Lord would have them know at the time of the conference (CR, October 1973, 168).
61 The several elders composing this church of Christ are to meet in conference once in three months, or from time to time as said conferences shall direct or appoint; 62 And said conferences are to do whatever church business is necessary to be done at the time.
verses 63-64, 82-84 In the early days of the Church, the method employed to certify the membership, priesthood authority, and good standing of individuals was to give them certificates of ordination and membership. A person carried this certificate with him from his old branch and presented it to the presiding elder of the new one. Then, by sustaining vote of the new branch, the priesthood holder would be given a license to function in the new branch. Also membership lists were presented at the various conferences for entrance in the general records of the Church. These usually also included a list of those who had been removed from the Church since the last conference.
63 The elders are to receive their licenses from other elders, by vote of the church to which they belong, or from the conferences.
64 Each priest, teacher, or deacon, who is ordained by a priest, may take a certificate from him at the time, which certificate, when presented to an elder, shall entitle him to a license, which shall authorize him to perform the duties of his calling, or he may receive it from a conference.
verses 65-67 At the time section 20 was received in 1829-30, there were no such offices in the Church as high priest, bishop, or high councilor. As the structure of the Church continued to unfold, section 20 was revised to include the newly revealed offices. Verses 65-67 were added to section 20 at the Prophet’s direction in 1835. Verse 65 also reflects the law of common consent (see D&C 26).
65 No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church; 66 But the presiding elders, traveling bishops, high councilors, high priests, and elders, may have the privilege of ordaining, where there is no branch of the church that a vote may be called. 67 Every president of the high priesthood (or presiding elder), bishop, high councilor, and high priest, is to be ordained by the direction of a high council or general conference.
verses 68-70 Some duties of church members after their baptism are outlined.
68 The duty of the members after they are received by baptism.—The elders or priests are to have a sufficient time to expound all things concerning the church of Christ to their understanding, previous to their partaking of the sacrament and being confirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders, so that all things may be done in order.
verse 68 In the early days of the Church, the Lord required that baptized members be taught the basics of the gospel and have an understanding before being confirmed and before partaking of the sacrament.
69 And the members shall manifest before the church, and also before the elders, by a godly walk and conversation, that they are worthy of it, that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures—walking in holiness before the Lord.
verse 69 Members of the Church are to manifest a “godly walk and conversation.” This means that others should be able to recognize that Mormons are genuine Christians by the way they behave and the way they talk.
verses 70-79 The methods of specific ordinances are outlined: blessing of children (verse 70), baptism (verses 72-74), and sacrament—including the specific sacramental prayers (verses 77, 79).
verse 76 implies that congregations of the saints knelt during the sacrament prayers. Even from the early days of the Church, the members of the Church did not kneel with those officiating at the sacrament table, except in the smallest congregations, and many times not even then.
70 Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.
verse 70 While fathers holding the Melchizedek Priesthood can bless their children whenever the need arises, here we learn that it is a commandment of the Lord to bless our children in front of the members of the Church. President John Taylor taught that parents who bring their child before the Church to be blessed publicly manifest their faith in God and in his promises. Also the child benefits from the united faith of the assembled saints (Millennial Star, 15 April 1978, 235).
71 No one can be received into the church of Christ unless he has arrived unto the years of accountability before God, and is capable of repentance.
verse 71 Joseph resolves the Church’s position on the question of infant baptism. In D&C 68:25-27 the Lord will define the age of accountability as eight years of age. This age was prefigured in the law of Moses by circumcision of male children at eight days of age (see JST Genesis 17:11) and is perhaps also alluded to in 1 Peter 3:20-21.
72 Baptism is to be administered in the following manner unto all those who repent— 73 The person who is called of God and has authority from Jesus Christ to baptize, shall go down into the water with the person who has presented himself or herself for baptism, and shall say, calling him or her by name: Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
verse 73 “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ” It is interesting to note that the phrase “having authority given me of Jesus Christ” (identical to that found in 3 Nephi 11:25) appears in all sources of section 20 before 1835. Joseph Smith altered the phrase to read “having been commissioned of Jesus Christ” in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and covenants, which is, of course the form of the prayer we use today.
74 Then shall he immerse him or her in the water, and come forth again out of the water.
verse 74 The consensus of biblical scholars is that Jewish and Christian baptism in the first century was also by immersion. In fact, the verb baptize in Greek is normally translated as “to immerse” or “to dip.”
75 It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus;
verse 75 Bread, of course, is made from crushed wheat, and wine is made from the crushed grapes. Thus, bread and wine are ideal symbols for the body and blood of Christ whose life was crushed out of him in the press of Gethsemane. His body was bruised and his blood shed for us that we might live.
In ancient Israel, under the Law of Moses, part of the ordinance of sacrifice or blood offerings was the partaking of the sacrificed animal. Bringing an animal to be sacrificed brought to the individual ritual cleansing and spiritual security. They then ate the sacrificed animals. Accordingly, we partake symbolically of the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed to bring us cleansing and salvation. Also, when we partake of the bread and water, in faith and repentance, we receive the same blessings and restore the same covenants as at our baptism. And just as those who are baptized are then given the gift of the Holy Ghost, so those who partake of the sacrament in good faith will then “always have his Spirit to be with them” (verses 77, 79).
76 And the elder or priest shall administer it; and after this manner shall he administer it—he shall kneel with the church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer, saying:
verse 76 “he shall kneel with the church” It appears that in the early days of the Church the entire Church knelt when the sacrament was blessed, just as in the Book of Mormon (see Moroni 4:1-2). This is largely impractical in modern congregations, though we must still have an attitude of humility and bend the “knees” of our hearts as the priest offers the prayers. It should be noted that all such changes in practice have been inspired, with prophetic authorization.
77 O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
78 The manner of administering the wine—he shall take the cup also, and say: 79 O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
80 Any member of the church of Christ transgressing, or being overtaken in a fault, shall be dealt with as the scriptures direct.
verses 81-84 See the commentary for verses 61-64.
81 It shall be the duty of the several churches, composing the church of Christ, to send one or more of their teachers to attend the several conferences held by the elders of the church,
verse 81 The expression “several churches” means several congregations. Today we would say several wards.
82 With a list of the names of the several members uniting themselves with the church since the last conference; or send by the hand of some priest; so that a regular list of all the names of the whole church may be kept in a book by one of the elders, whomsoever the other elders shall appoint from time to time; 83 And also, if any have been expelled from the church, so that their names may be blotted out of the general church record of names.
verse 83 The Lord from the very beginning of the Church has allowed for the excommunication of those who violate their covenants and refuse to repent. When an excommunication takes place, the name of the excommunicated person is removed from the records of the Church. By this action they are mercifully released form covenants they will not keep, and they are returned to “the world.”
84 All members removing from the church where they reside, if going to a church where they are not known, may take a letter certifying that they are regular members and in good standing, which certificate may be signed by any elder or priest if the member receiving the letter is personally acquainted with the elder or priest, or it may be signed by the teachers or deacons of the church.
Brief Historical Setting 1830 April
The Lord had commanded that the Church be organized on Tuesday, April 6, 1830, and the Church of Christ was accordingly organized, according to the state law of New York, at the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York. The six official organizers, for legal purposes, were Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Samuel H. Smith, and David Whitmer. Later that day the Lord gave additional instructions to the infant Church [D&C 21 -The Prophet Is the Mouthpiece of God]. On the following Sunday, April 11, 1830, Oliver Cowdery preached the first sermon.
Later in April, someone applied for membership in the Church who had already been baptized by immersion in the Baptist Church. They did not want to be rebaptized. The Lord made it clear by revelation that even those who had been previously baptized into other churches needed to be baptized again by proper authority [D&C 22 Rebaptism]. He also gave instructions to specific members of the Church [D&C 23 Counsel to Five Individuals].
- Michael J. Preece